Review: The North (and almost everything in it)

The NorthBook: The North (and almost everything in it) by Paul Morley (582 pages)

Published: 2014 (Paperback version)

Genre: Memoir, Historical Non-fiction

Period: Mostly late 1950s to early 1970s Stockport, North West England, but gives a brief history (mostly focusing on Manchester) from roughly the Romans to 1976.

Rating: 6/10


The North (and almost everything in it) by Paul Morley is half memoir and half history book about the North of England.  Morley takes his own personal story about growing up in Reddish, less than 5 miles away from Manchester, and interjects it with various social and cultural history of Northern England.  As a northerner, the book intrigued me.  I was curious to read more about the North, however, the book wasn’t as I expected.  Morley focuses heavily on the Manchester area with sprinklings of facts from Yorkshire, Cumbria, County Durham and Northumberland.  This is understandable because to fit the entire history of the North in under 600 pages is a difficult feat but it does mean the title doesn’t quite fit and some may find disappointing.  On the other hand, it’s not a terrible book and is a fairly enjoyable, interesting read.

Morley mostly focuses on the Manchester area because that’s where he spent a majority of his childhood.  It would have been interesting to have a broader scope within the book (and admittedly this was what I was expecting with a title like The North (and almost everything in it). ) Another source of interest in the book is how Morley identifies with and views the North.  Morley calls himself a northerner despite being born in Kent, where he lived for the first five years of his life.  He also moved to London in the mid-seventies and has never left since and still identifies as a northerner.  This showed that everyone has a different view of the north and what it means to be northern and that was interesting to read about.  Morley’s writing is also very nostalgic.  I think people who grew in the Manchester area in the mid-twentieth century would find it to be reminiscent and enjoy reading this book for this reason.

It is clear that Morley, clearly researched the book but my main issue with the book was the north fred perry
that it was very higgledy-piggledy throughout the book.  Morley would start on one topic but then veer off topic and proceed to tell you everything he knew about the new topic and then maybe move on to another topic without a clear link.  Eventually, he would return back to the original, however, because it had been so long, I struggled to remember his original point.  Morley wanted the reader to know everything he knew, unfortunately, it did seem like it was a huge information dump at times.

The photographs used in the book were placed in an illogical order.  It was as if Morley had worn a blindfold and placed the photographs between pages randomly hoping for the best.  For example, on pages 196- 197, Morley wrote about Mrs Elizabeth Raffald (acclaimed creator of the Eccles cake) and her successful cookery book published 1769, but the picture chosen is an image of Fred Perry, who won Wimbledon in 1928. Morley does talk about Fred Perry further in the book but his description starts on page 467.

Morley presented the social and cultural history in a unique way.  Working back from 1976 and finishing in 1515, he presented key dates and events (ranging from births of famous people to inventions and visitations and everything in between).  I really enjoyed this aspect because it meant you could see how things progressed and changed.  It was absolutely fascinating.  However, one thing I found rather confusing to why the dates were chosen and frustrating that he never explains his choice.

Although frustrating to read at times, Morley can write well and has a strangely hypnotic tone.  I found myself repeatedly returning to read the book time and time again.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take away too much away from the book but it was a relaxing read (at times) as it reminded me how complex and exciting the North is.  The book is most suitable for those who are from the Manchester area in the mid-twentieth century, or those who have a vague interest in reading about other people’s lives (if you’re nosey like me).  As a history book, it is not the strongest example but it is a good starting point. Because Morley covers a lot of topics, it can inspire new interests for a whole variety of different people.  All in all, this book is fairly interesting to read and it is quite easy to keep returning back to.  It gains the overall rating of 6/10.








‘I’m gonna be the big bow-wow’: A Brief History of Crufts

This weekend sees hundreds of thousands of dog-lovers and their precious pooches embark on their own personal pilgrimages to the holiest of all places in the canine world, Crufts, the World’s Largest Dog Show!  Currently in its 126th year, the prestige of Crufts attracts competitors and viewers from all over the world, including royalty.  (Three of Queen Victoria’s dogs won prizes in 1891 when the competition first started!)  With all the hype and excitement to see who will win ‘Best in Show’ on Sunday in the Grand Finale, I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to give a brief history about Crufts, reportedly the greatest place in the world for dog enthusiasts.

Facts and Stats

  • The ‘Best in Show’ category was introduced in 1928.  The first winner was a Greyhound called Primely Spectre.
  • Countess Lorna Howe was the first female owner of the ‘Best in Show’ winner.  She won with a Golden Retriever called Bramshaw Bob.
  • The most successful owner was Mr Herbert Summers Lloyd (known as H. S. Lloyd) with 6 wins to his title.
  • With 79 best in show winners, English Cocker Spaniels has been the most successful breed to win ‘Best in Show’ 7 times (6 of which were owned by H. S. Lloyd).  Irish Setters, Standard Poodles and Welsh Terriers are next with 4 wins.  English Setters, German Shepards, Greyhounds, Labrador Retrievers, West Highland White Terriers and Wirefox Terriers come in 3rd with 3 wins.
  • Gundogs have been the most successful group with 23 wins.  Terriers have a very close second with 22 wins.  The hound group comes in third with 12 wins.

Charles Cruft

Charles Cruft famously created ‘Cruft’s Dog Show’ in 1891. Cruft was born in 1852 in Hunter Street, Brunswick Square in Bloomsbury, England and was a son of a goldsmith.  At the age of 14, Cruft became a travelling salesman for Spratt’s Meal Fibrine Dog Cakes.  He excelled at the role.  At 26, Cruft became wholly in charge of sales and office department for Spratt, who at this point, liked to solely focus on the manufacturing. In 1878, French breeders invited Cruft to promote the dog part of the Paris Exhibition. Cruft saw that dog shows were an excellent way to sell the dog cakes.  Dog shows excited the public’s imagination thus making the dog cakes desirable.  This meant profits all around for Cruft and Spratt.

In 1878 (a busy year for him), Cruft became secretary of the Toy Spaniel Clubs.  In later years he became the Secretary of the Pug Dog Club and was involved with Borzois, Setters and St Bernards.  He used this experience to his full advantage and started running shows for the Allied Terrier Club in 1886 by himself.  The idea for the terrier show was reportedly suggested by the Duchess of Newcastle.  Between 1886 and 1890, Cruft ran 6 terrier shows until setting up Cruft’s, a dog show for all breeds in 1891.

In 1903, Cruft designed special carriages on trains for the comfort of dogs and worked with the rail companies to negotiated special rail fares for those travelling to Cruft’s Dog Show. Furthermore, local hotels and businesses gained profit from the dog show by offering special deals and packages for those visiting and competing at Cruft’s.

The Show Must Go On!

Crufts celebrated its 125th anniversary last year, but it was not smooth sailing for parts of it’s run.  The World Wars disrupted the shows between 1918-1920 and 1940-1947. Interestingly enough for a majority of the First World War, Charles Cruft continued to run the show with usually a financial loss for him.  This was partly because the venue for the show, the Agricultural Hall in Islington, was viewed as a potential risk for Zeppelin bombing raids.  The Agricultural Hall was a large building with a glass roof.  Because of the risk, people were reluctant to visit thus there was an incredibly low turnout.  There were further problems for Cruft in 1917.  Parliment debated whether keeping non-working dogs as pets were an extravagance, especially during times of food shortages.  Rail travel was restricted, mostly reserved for military use, and fares were 50% more expensive.  There was a further shortage of labour and trade stands at the show which meant the show couldn’t run as smoothly has it had in previous years.  In 1918, the Agricultural Hall was requisitioned as a storage depot for the military, who did not return the hall until 1921.

Charles Cruft eventually died in 1938.  His widow, Emma, ran the show in 1939, however, in 1942 she decided to sell the show to the Kennel Club as she felt she could no longer cope.  This deal sold everything including the cash boxes, the staff’s brown coats and boards for the walls.  The Kennel Club had no idea whether Cruft’s Dog Show would return after the war, and thus it was deemed a risky venture.  This was not the case and Crufts was as popular as ever.  This lead to the show first being broadcast on television via the BBC in 1950.

Apart from the war years, Crufts has been cancelled one further time but close to being cancelled 3 times.  George VI’s death in 1952 nearly cancelled the show as organisers thought to cancel the show as a sign of respect for the royal family.  The enforcement of the three-day working week for miner’s in 1972 nearly cancelled the show, but the lighting was subdued to prevent any power outages during the contest.  Finally, in 2009, the BBC dropped coverage of the competition because it disagreed with the Kennel Club placing breed and judging standards and breeding practices over the health of pure breeds. Crufts was only available to watch via YouTube in 2009 but Channel Four bought the coverage rights.  Crufts was only cancelled in 1954 and this was because of the General Electrician’s Strike.  Without electricians, there was simply no show.


Crufts, ‘Best in Show Winners’,

Crufts, ‘History of Crufts’,

Great Dogs, ‘All about the History of Crufts’, 

The Telegraph, ’10 things you didn’t know about Crufts’,

Vet Medic, ‘A History of Crufts’,

Review: The Man Behind the Bayeux Tapestry

odo-bookBook: The Man Behind the Bayeux Tapestry: Odo, William the Conqueror’s Half Brother by Trevor Rowley (192 pages)

Published: 2013

Genre: Historical Non-Fiction

Period: The Normans

Rating: 9/10

The Man Behind the Bayeux Tapestry: Odo, William the Conqueror’s Half Brother by Trevor Rowley covers the life and times of Bishop Odo, William the Conqueror’s half-brother (as the title suggests).  Odo became the youngest Bishop of Bayeux, was England’s first Chief of Justice and acted as the King’s Regent whilst William the Conqueror was away in Normandy.  Currently, it is thought that Odo commissioned the epic Bayeux Tapestry in 1070.  However, it wasn’t a walk in the park for Odo.  He was imprisoned in 1082 for planning a military expedition to Italy.  Odo was released but got himself into trouble again in 1088 when he supported William’s eldest son, Robert’s, claim to the throne instead of William II, William’s second eldest son.  After the failure of the 1088 rebellion, Odo was banished from England and moved back to Normandy.  Odo died in 1097, whilst travelling to Jerusalem to participate in the first crusade.

The book is a fantastic introduction to the Norman period and does not require any previous knowledge to understand the book.  Rowley explains concepts clearly and does not skimp information.  Despite the fact the book is mostly a biography for Odo, Rowley explains the origins of the Normans, the course of 1066 and the Battle of Hastings, the Bayeux Tapestry and even the First Crusade.  It is also good for those who have some knowledge as it offers new facts and concepts to consider.  By focusing on Odo, this gives a different insight to Norman nobility and churchmen.  There is simply something for everyone provided in this book.

It was fascinating learning about Odo.  He is a very grey character, especially because there is very little textual evidence about Odo, so we are very reliant upon historical perspective which can lead to major bias.  Rowley treats the subject well and removes as much bias as possible by presenting both views and leaving the reader to come to their own judgement. I found that quite refreshing, sometimes authors have a tendency to aggressively push their interpretation often ignoring other viewpoints.  It was also interesting reading about such a powerful Norman who wasn’t a king.  Admittedly, I did not know much about Odo prior to reading the book so I found it fascinating.

At 192 pages long, it’s a short and easy to read history book.  It is easy to dip in and out of but it could also be read in one sitting as well, taking roughly a few hours to read.  I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who wanted to know more about the Norman period.


So you wanna be a re-enactor?

Re-enactment has been ever increasingly grown in popularity over the past years.  Every period imaginable has its own re-enactment group and it draws a wide variety of people, regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality and religion.  According to the Re-enactor’s Directory, there are currently 130 different groups (ranging from Iron Age to WW2) across the UK.  This list does not include every and there are a lot more re-enactment groups out there, (for example my own re-enactment group has not been listed) and the number varies from country to country.

Becoming a re-enactor can be a terrifying prospect, with so much choice out there.  This post hopes to help alleviate any fear by offering useful tips and pointers.


Often becoming a re-enactor is a spur of the moment decision.  I joined Normannis at my university’s fresher’s fair purely because I saw people in historical dress and thought ‘that looks fun!’  Sometimes, people have a friend or colleague who already re-enact and so are brought to the re-enactment world that way.  Some people never experience any of this.  Any case, it helps to be prepared by researching on the internet as much as you can.

What to research

  • Who are the local groups are and what periods they re-enact.
  • When and where the group meets.
  • Whether it’s battle re-enactment, living history or a bit of both.
  • Any videos of the group on YouTube to see the group in action.  (This will give you a sense of what the group looks like and how the re-enactment looks as a whole and what you would be potentially get involved with.)

Choosing a group

Finding the perfect group for you is important.  There’s no use joining a french revolution re-enactment group 20 miles from your home when you’d rather be a medieval seamstress for a more local group.  Re-enactment is only fun when it’s something you enjoy because, boy, shows can really take it out of you.  There’s no point doing something you do not enjoy at all.  Some things you should consider are:

  • What periods you would like to re-create.
  • The location of the group.
  • Whether you want to participate in battle re-enactment, living history or both.  (If you identify as female and you want to take part in the battle re-enactment ask the person in charge of the group.  Usually, groups will allow women to fight, however, they would have to have to dress up as a male for any fighting during shows since women for a majority of history were not allowed to fight.  Although banning women from fighting is extremely rare it is something worth checking.)
  • If battle re-enactment is your thing what weapons you would prefer fighting with.  Are guns and pistols your thing? Or would you rather fight with swords and shields? Is archery more your thing?

(Note: Try not to be too set about what you expect.  You might surprise yourself.  I would thoroughly recommend having an open mind and try new activities.  Admittedly when joining Normannis, I thought that the medieval craft was going to be my thing but I went to the first battle training and never looked back.  After 3 broken shields, and 5 badly cut pieces of clothing I can safely say that craft is not my forte.)

Your first training session

Congratulations! You have chosen a group and are attending your first training session! Whooo! (If you are more interested in making craft then there will be a section for you straight after this one, I promise!)  It can be a scary prospect but there are a few little things to remember

  • Wear sensible footwear and something you wouldn’t mind getting dirty or torn.
  • Bring a pair of gloves (preferably something with a bit of protection even if they are a pair of old leather gloves or a pair of gardening gloves)
  • Try out as many weapons as possible to find out what is best for you.
  • You will come home with some injury (usually small bruises).  It’s a dangerous hobby.
  • Accidents will happen.  Again, it’s a dangerous hobby.  If you accidentally hurt another, do not freak out.  Simply apologise.  Most people are incredibly understanding and will offer tips to avoid making the same mistake again.
  • Re-enactors love new people and will happily tell you everything about your weapon. It will be information overload so don’t worry about not being able to remember everything.
  • For a majority of cases, you will not be the best fighter first time.  The best fighters in the group took years to get where they are.  Listen to any hints they may give and don’t beat yourself up about not being good at your first session.
  • Re-enactors love questions.  Don’t be afraid to ask!
  • If there is something wrong, please do tell someone so the issue can be fixed.

Your first craft session

Craft is an important part of re-enactment (we have to get kit somehow). By making kit ourselves it gives chance to keep costs down and chat with your fellow re-enactors about anything! Some things to remember include:

  • Have a go at everything.  There are a plethora of different crafts.  At Normannis you can make clothes, embroider, make shields and weapons, make shoes, and make sheaths just to name a few.  By trying different crafts you find what you have some competency for.
  • Again, don’t expect to be fantastic first time.  Often you will start on scraps so that nothing will be ruined.  Again practice is key for success.
  • Do not hesitate to ask questions.  People would rather help you than you mucking up.
  • Don’t sew your hand to whatever you’re making.
  • Talk nerd to your fellow re-enactors.  We are all massive nerds and often there willbe at least one person who will share passions for whatever nerdy thing you’re interested.

I hope this has been useful for you and wish you all the best with your new hobby!


Will 2016 be remembered in the history books?

Rambling thoughts from a history graduate.

2016 ‘The year of the dumpster fire’

Collectively known as ‘the year of the dumpster fire’, 2016 has certainly been a roller coaster ride of events.  Ranging from the release of Pokemon GO and chemotherapy breakthroughs for pancreatic cancer to Donald Trump being elected and Brexit to ISIS attacks across the globe and so many deaths of beloved celebrities it has certainly been quite a year.  However, the main question is whether 2016 as a whole will be remembered in the history books?  Short answer, no.  That’s not how history works.

That’s not how history works!

Some events, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, the ISIS attacks and the various political changes to name a few, will be remembered.  They are key moments from 2016 which have impacted the course of our history for better or for worse.  This does not mean that 2016 has not been an important year for many nor for the future, it means 2016 will not be remembered as a whole but as a collection of events.

As humans, we look back at the years we have lived through and pass judgement on a specific year based on what happened to us and the people who we are closest to.  A majority of events are often not newsworthy for example, new friendships created, being made redundant and moving to a new house to name a few.  Although, these events are important to the person, they are not historical groundbreaking moments and therefore difficult to study.  Those personal events will not mean anything in the grand scale of the historical narrative, unless they play into large cultural figures, for example, the increasing rate of divorce.  2016 will be remembered as a whole by those who experienced it, however, historians will not.  Historians generally do not choose a specific year and study all the events which occurred. They chose periods, events, groups and persons who interest them and wish to learn more about.

Some of the events which occurred in 2016 will be remembered and studied by historians. Which events and to what extent are generally unknown.  This is simply because we cannot foresee the future and know what the events of 2016 will create in further years.

British Prime Minister, Theresa May

Take Brexit for example, nobody knows how it will come about nor its implications for the future. This also includes the Prime Minister, Theresa May, who is instigating Brexit.  Therefore, the importance of the 2016 Referendum is unknown.  Brexit could run smoothly and cause little if not any problems and thus the 2016 Referendum will mostly be forgotten.  It could go exceedingly well and Britain could be better off for leaving Europe, making the Referendum highly celebrated as that time when the British took the future into their own hands.  On the other hand, there is the possibility that Brexit could ruin Britain and the Referendum could be remembered as the most idiotic decision the British public collectively have made ever.  Because Brexit has not happened yet, we do not know its impact to us or history.

As the clock strikes midnight tonight, 2016 will become yet another moment in the past and for many, there may be a sigh of relief.  Despite its roller coaster nature, 2016 has been a year of change for many.  Change of personal circumstances, change of politics and laws, change of ideologies and beliefs, the list continues.  2016 has been an important year for many, both positively and negatively.  It is hoped that the events of 2016 will be remembered not just by future historians but by mostly us.  We are the ones who can shape the future and not the historians of the future.  By remembering the events which have occurred, we can take steps to becoming the best the human race could ever be by trying to improve what can be done and not repeating old mistakes.  Let’s make 2017 the best it can be!image

Happy New Year!